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Action for Dental Health

CDHC Helps Virginia Community Overcome Barriers to Dental Care

August  3, 2015

Many people who live on Virginia’s Eastern Shore have difficulty accessing regular dental care.

Part of the Delmarva Peninsula, the Eastern Shore is separated from the rest of Virginia by the Chesapeake Bay. This location adds additional challenges for local residents when accessing dental care. Getting to the nearest metropolitan area requires people to either drive 60 miles north to Salisbury, Md., or 80 miles south to Virginia Beach, a trek that includes the 23-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge – Tunnel with a $30 round trip toll 

“The shore is geographically isolated, and therefore it poses a unique barrier to accessing dental care because there are limited options for the residents,” said Jenna Linden, who spent two weeks this summer educating and coordinating care for those who lack regular dental care.

As a Community Dental Health Coordinator (CDHC), Ms. Linden helped people in the community overcome barriers to oral health. Many of these people don’t seek care for a variety of reasons, including poverty, geography, language, culture, and a lack of understanding of oral hygiene and the importance of regular dental visits.

Ms. Linden worked with the Eastern Shore Rural Health System, Inc., which consists of five community health centers, two with attached dental clinics. It also serves children at two school-based dental clinics. During her two weeks in Virginia, Ms. Linden helped Eastern Shore Rural Health System, Inc., medical and dental staff to implement and expand dental educational outreach efforts and increase access-to-care initiatives that serve more than 500 patients.

“I was not quite convinced that this (CDHC) program was something we should be putting resources into,” said Dr. Terry Dickinson, executive director of the Virginia Dental Association. “But after seeing Jenna work and how the people in the rural health system would hire her in a second, I now realize that this thing is going to be a home run. Now, I see situations where I think, ‘this would be a perfect place for a CDHC.’”

Ms. Linden echoed similar sentiments about the role of a CDHC in the Eastern Shore community.

“Eastern Shore Rural Health System has many successful medical outreach programs and efforts, but very few incorporate dental education, outreach or dental case management,” said Ms. Linden. “I spent a significant amount of time working with staff to help them integrate a dental component into their outreach.”

Ms. Linden worked with a private obstetrics and gynecology office and local health department nurses to provide patient education and increase awareness that the state’s Medicaid coverage recently changed to include care for pregnant women.

“What I discovered is that very few pregnant women knew about the option to have dental coverage throughout their pregnancy,” she said.

Ms. Linden also collaborated with community organizations and health center medical and dental staff to increase the amount of children who visit a dentist by age one or when the first tooth appears. 

A seasoned CDHC, Ms. Linden in 2013 was involved in two short-term sabbaticals – one in Vermont and the other in Florida – where she helped coordinate care for and provide oral health education to more than 2,800 people.